Oslo in the Summertime
by Gretchen Tessmer
When the French nanny, Danielle Charbonnet, leaves the house at quarter past 5 in the morning, she’s already late for dance class. Saturday at 5 a.m. is an ungodly hour for anything other than sleeping, but the sun has already been up for hours. It’s June in Oslo and the sky is having its annual fits of insomnia.
On her way down the front walkway, Danielle belatedly looks in her messenger bag for her phone, digging through a hodge-podge of loose change, medicine bottles, hair pins and less conventional items. She finds the phone, but in her zealous digging, she also presses a number of buttons that, when taken together, send a call to her mother in Camargue.
She swears in French and hangs up quickly, hoping the phone sitting on her mother’s nightstand does the world a favor and keeps its buzzing to itself.
Danielle and her mother have their issues. Among other things, Madame Claire Charbonnet is a convicted sea-sorceress, on house arrest in one of those salty, blood-red Camargue lakes for crimes too numerous to count.
And Danielle’s just … not into that sort of thing.
She knows her mother would be happy to hear from her this morning. Or any morning. Her mother’s been waiting for Danielle to come home and take up the family business for years. But Danielle wants nothing to do with that nonsense. In fact, she would rather do anything else and has, jumping from job to job, landing most recently as an au pair to a wealthy Pakistani family who are summering in Oslo.
The Pakistani children, Javid and Malaika, are already up and playing in the courtyard of the massive, brick townhouse that Danielle emerges from—No. 15 Grendelsgate Bygdøynesveien. The house has the largest yard on the street, with a lush, green lawn surrounded on three sides by a wrought iron fence, gated and Gothic-looking. While their father is away, the twins claim the courtyard as their own, without the threat of Abba dismantling all their hard work. He’ll be in Tokyo for at least three weeks on business, so the courtyard is in the middle of a glorious transformation.
The children are building a pirate ship out of chairs plundered from the dining room. Colorful silks and rugs that are worth more than two years of Danielle’s salary are draped over the furniture as makeshift sails and decking. There’s a small campfire smoldering beside the ship, with a scorched, paisley-colored handkerchief tied on a stick planted in its center. Earlier in the morning, the twins had been forced to make an emergency landing on a desert island in rough seas.
They’re filled with energy, these two. Nine-year-old twins are an au pair’s worst nightmare. But it’s Danielle’s day off, so the dining room chairs and priceless family heirlooms will have to enjoy their outdoor adventures until she’s on the clock again. If Paransa wants to rouse herself from the upstairs bedroom and her self-medicated stupor for long enough to end their fun, she’s free to do so.
She’s their mother, after all.
“Danielle, can we go to the kjøpesenter today?” Javid calls after Danielle, catching sight of the nanny when she’s halfway down the front walk. Malaika pokes her head out from beneath their mother’s bed quilt (removed while Paransa was sleeping?—Danielle wouldn’t doubt it) and adds, “Or IKEA? We need some supplies.”
“It’s my day off, chèrie,” she reminds them, not sparing a glance behind her. She’s still digging in her bag, having lost the fair-weather phone in the battle over calling her mother.
“Tomorrow?” Javid asks. “It’s important. Our ship needs treasure. All we have so far is that ugly, old starfish that we found down at the beach yesterday. And we need some cannons.”
“To scare away sea dragons,” Malaika confirms.
“Peut-être. We’ll see.” Danielle isn’t really listening so she doesn’t commit herself to anything. She finally locates the phone, checks the time and makes a face.
The word “dragon” registers in her subconscious mind about half a block down the street, where she suddenly stops on the sidewalk, right outside a corner café. The café has outdoor seating, decorated with black-and-white checkerboard tablecloths and flowers in dark green vases. This is the same moment that Danielle’s peripheral vision picks up on a sea bird in the summer sky. It’s some distance off but it takes one flap of wings before dropping like a stone, disappearing below the line of buildings down at the harbor.
Now it’s the word “draugr” that’s lingering in her head. Danielle isn’t the superstitious sort, not really, although it’s hard not to be when your mother’s a sea-sorceress. But summer in Oslo can be eerie at the best of times and the morning air has that sour, stale taste that always makes a person nervous.
After checking the time on her phone again (she’s late, of course she’s late), she turns around and walks back to No. 15 Grendelsgate. She reaches beneath her blouse, pulling out a large iron key on a brass chain. The key is covered with ancient rune symbols, etched on all sides. She slips it from around her neck, snagging the chain on her hair once before freeing it. She pulls the gate shut and locks it.
“Better safe than sorry?” From down in the galley of their dining chair pirate ship, Javid quotes the phrase that Danielle mutters so often. He ties one end of a skipping rope to the woodwork forming the legs of the nearest chair and tosses the other end to his sister. Malaika raises her eyebrows slightly while pulling the hold rigging tight.
“Mmhmm.” Danielle confirms. She returns the key back around her neck, dropping it beneath her blouse again, close to her skin for safekeeping. She nods towards the smoldering campfire in the yard. “Don’t burn anything down while I’m gone, n’est-ce pas?”
“We won’t,” Malaika promises, grinning wickedly.
Danielle isn’t convinced. But she’s late, so she spins around and hurries off to her dance class with a simple, “Ciao.”
As she passes the corner café a second time, she sees Elin, one of the Norwegian waitresses, wiping down the outside tables and replacing the droopy flowers with fresh ones. Danielle is in a hurry and it’s her day off so she doesn’t stop. She refuses.
But, feeling generous, she does give a warning on her way by, “Da com of more under mist-hleoþum.”
• • •
Julia’s tired of Oslo. She had plans to be on the beaches of Maui all summer. In April, she bought a red polka dot two-piece and has been regularly visiting the tanning bed two doors down from her apartment most of the winter and all of the spring. But then Jan, her stupid boyfriend, decided that his band was “this close” to making their big break and he just couldn’t leave Norway.
Not now. Not when they’re “this close.”
Julia’s thinking about breaking up with him. This isn’t the first time.
But she’s not wasting her time thinking about Jan this morning. Instead, she’s leaning on the counter lazily, chin in her hands, daydreaming of blue-green surf and warm, white sand when Elin comes back into the café with a bouquet of dead lilies in her hand and a distracted, semi-horrified look on her face.
“Don’t tell me,” Julia mutters, knowing her friend too well. “There was a spider in the lilies, wasn’t there? Look, you just have to call me out and I’ll take care of it. But really, Elin, you’ve got to get over this phobia. Seriously, you’re a grown woman.”
“No, it’s not …,” Elin starts, then shudders. “Ugh, why’d you have to bring up spiders?”
“I’m just saying, it’s not healthy,” Julia sighs, adding, “Spiders are to you what Jan is to me … or something. I’ve decided that I’m going to break up with him. What do you think?”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever. Don’t you guys break up every other week?” Elin’s still distracted, casting a nervous glance out the café door. And normally, she’d be overjoyed to hear that Julia is breaking up with Jan, so something’s definitely off.
“What is it?” Julia wonders. They’re alone in the café. They’ve already had one customer this morning. Two would be unusual. The city’s dead. Everyone’s gone on holiday.
“The French nanny for the al-Jahad family just went by quoting Beowulf,” Elin replies flatly. She throws the wilting flowers in the wastebasket next to the sink with a whoosh. She puts her hand on her hip, considering, “Why would she do that?”
“Maybe she took a second job as a street poet?” Julia muses, sarcastically.
“Don’t joke around,” Elin chides her. “It wasn’t a random line. Da com of more under mist-hleoþum. That’s what she said as she walked by, moody and unfriendly as always. And then she was gone before I could ask her what she meant by it.”
Julia blinks at the line.
“El, that’s a Valkyrie’s call-to-arms line,” Julia states, now with dead seriousness.
“No kidding, Jules,” Elin answers, glad the other waitress finally gets it. They’ve been friends since they were five years old, sisters in all but blood. They grew up together. They moved to Oslo together. Before that, they took vows together—ancient, monster-slaying vows of the Valkyrie Order. “How would she know that we’re Valkyries?”
“I heard a rumor that her mother’s some sort of enchantress or something down in Marseilles …,” Julia offers.
“Ja? So?” Elin shrugs.
“So,” Julia continues, “I don’t know. Maybe she can see things like that. But I don’t know why she wouldn’t have mentioned it earlier. And really? A draugr in the city? Ughhh … I should be two thousand miles away right now. It isn’t fair. I’m breaking up with Jan for good this time, I swear.”
“You always say that,” Elin shakes her head, obviously not buying it. She sighs and goes into the back room of the café.
Julia follows, still complaining, “But you get it, don’t you? Hawaii is my dream vacation and I deserved it this year. And Jan knew that and still with all this ‘but I’m gonna be a star, babe’…”
Elin is on her hands and knees in the coat closet, searching through cardboard boxes filled with holiday decorations and old shoes.
The little bell to the café jingles.
“Anybody home?” comes an American voice from the outer room. Julia and Elin have a silent argument about who should take care of the customer, with many side eyes and violent hand gestures. Julia loses and grumpily leaves the break room. Elin continues searching, pulling out an old wooden box from the back of the closet. The box is six or seven generations old, inscribed with Saxon spells. Inside there are five amulets on silver chains. The amulets are set with gemstones colored in various shades of red.
Elin takes two and stuffs them in her apron pocket for later.
• • •
A boy and a girl are sitting on a rock ledge outside a cottage on the little harbor island of Nakholmen, with their legs dangling toward the water and their view facing the city. They’re discussing marriage and then divorce and then marriage again. It’s a tricky subject, made trickier by family dynamics. Two of the boy’s college friends, Micah and Michel, are kicking around a soccer ball on a patch of soft, summer-sunned grass behind them.
“Ow!” the girl protests, when one of the boys accidently bullets the ball into her left shoulder. It bounces up high and the boy beside her rises to catch it before it falls into the water. He tosses it back to his mates.
“Sorry!” Micah apologizes.
“Desolé!” Michel adds, catching the ball with his feet.
“What were you saying?” the boy wonders aloud, as he bends to sit down again. The girl is rubbing her upper arm and pouting.
“We were discussing where it should be,” she said. “And whether or not we can avoid inviting both sets of parents.”
“No chance,” he replies. “If your mother ever found out she wasn’t—”
The boy drifts off, wide-eyed and looking past the girl, out into the harbor.
“What?” the girl prods. “She’ll get over it. It’s dad we need. He’s the one with the deep pockets and—”
“Shhh!” the boy hushes her. She doesn’t appreciate the action and pouts some more, before he directs her attention to the harbor. “Look at that!”
Across the harbor, a swarm of gulls suddenly drop out of the sky as if shot. The water beneath the flock of stunned birds simmers as if it’s boiling.
The boy stands up straight and shades his eyes against the glare of sunlight on the water. The girl scrabbles to her feet as well.
“Did you see that?” She’s pointing across the water, at a black spot staining the navy blue. The spot bleeds to shore, where something—no, someone?—wet and covered in seaweeds drags itself onto the beach.
• • •
Danielle gets a call while in dance class. Caller ID says it’s from her mother. She stares at the phone for six full seconds before answering. Her dance instructor gives her a disapproving glare. They’re in the middle of a routine and he takes dance very seriously.
Better safe than sorry. The phrase echoes in Danielle’s head and she abruptly quits twirling and stretching and answers the phone.
“Danielle?” her mother speaks first.
“Yeah, Maman, I’m here,” Danielle wanders away from the rest of the dancers, toward the large picture windows lining the street-facing wall of the dance studio.
“You called me this morning?” her mother says. “Did you need something?”
“It was a mistake,” Danielle explains. “I pressed some buttons on this phone and it dialed your number. I hope I didn’t wake you up?”
“No, I’m a deep sleeper this time of year. You know that,” her mother replies. “You should get more sleep, chèrie. It’s important to keep up your strength.”
“My strength isn’t necessary up here, Maman,” Danielle muses under breath. Her attention is caught by some activity outside. There are a few people in the street, all running in the same direction. Not too many, of course. Oslo is a ghost town in the summer.
“No? You don’t think so?” her mother asks rhetorically. “I just checked the forecast, Danielle, and there’s a spike of unnatural energy in Oslo this morning. Your skills might be needed sooner than you think.”
“There are others in the city who can take care of it. I gave the Valkyries warning,” Danielle says, noting a dark spot on the blue sky outside. It’s a rip in the blue silk and it’s widening. She insists, more to herself than to her mother, “It’s my day off, Maman.”
“You are my daughter, mon trésor. Our work is never done. Where are the children you watch after?”
“Very safe. I’m not an idiot.”
“Fine. Take your day off. But if a sea monster ravages Oslo and the Council finds out that my daughter, Danielle Jacqueline-Thèrese Charbonnet was in the city and did nothing … well, I suppose you and I will be able to spend a lot of time catching up when you join me in Camargue.”
Danielle gives a half-growl, half-groan of frustration in response and hangs up on her mother, throwing the phone against the nearest wall. The phone takes the abuse in stride, used to it by now. Danielle’s dance instructor gives her a criticizing look. He believes in self-control at all times.
In return, Danielle gives him a dark, sea-sorceress style glance which encourages the little man to back off. Then, she picks up her resilient phone and leaves the studio immediately thereafter.
• • •
The draugr has crawled up out of the water and now stands outside the maritime museum, very near a stone statue of Roald Amundsen. He whistles to a hrafn perched up on the museum roof. The raven comes down from the awning and perches on the draugr’s damp shoulder. With one long, bony finger, the draugr strokes the chin feathers of the raven. Then he reaches inside his leathery, seaweed-smeared cloak and brings out a drenched, drowned crow. The hrafn chatters with approval and takes the offered gift. The raven drags it to the ground where he eats the dead crow whole.
“Godes yrre bær,” the draugr says smugly. His pale, corpse-blue skin looks like it could peel off with a scratch of fingernail. His eyes are cloudy with plum-black pupils and his hands are pruney, with knobby joints and long fingers.
The ground dampens in a large circle around him, flooding the ground beneath, bringing up worms and eels from cracks and fissures in the concrete. He turns west and walks toward Grendelsgate.
The few astonished tourists, not used to this sort of thing, are snapping pictures furiously.
• • •
Elin is nodding along with a vacant look on her face. Two American customers in a row, jabbering on in really bad Norwegian and asking for un café or a Coke, have worn her out. They tip terribly, because some European guidebook said that waitresses in Scandinavia make plenty in their paychecks and tipping is never expected.
The American man laughs suddenly. At her? At his poor language skills? At some joke he’s attempting to make? Maybe at his outfit—long tan dress pants, a blue-striped polo and a cowboy hat—now, that’s a real joke. She’ll never know for sure but smiles patiently and continues to nod along, vacantly.
Julia is at the window, pulling the lacy white curtains back, watching some activity in the street. With her hand hidden from view, Elin nervously fiddles with the amulets in her apron pocket.
“Ah, look at that little guy!” the American says suddenly, drawing Elin’s attention back to him and then to the little spider crawling across the café table.
Elin screeches and jumps back. She can’t help herself. What. The. Hell … is with the spiders in this place?
“Oh honey, it’s fine. Look, I got him,” the American stamps the spider out of existence with his fist. Elin doesn’t love the “honey” endearment but hey, the spider and his creeping-crawling horror-show of eight legs is dead. Her view of the ridiculously dressed American softens just a little.
She looks over at Julia, expecting some of her usual eye rolls at Elin’s “fatal weakness.” Whatever. Julia’s fatal weakness just walked in the door.
It’s Jan, a grizzled man with a red beard and a plaid shirt—“oh check it out, he’s like a real-life lumberjack,” is the American’s inane commentary. Jan isn’t a lumberjack, obviously. He grew up in Oslo and plays in a punk-rock electric band who describe themselves as Metallica meets Johnny Cash meets that Russian duo that had that one hit around the turn of the millennium about a forbidden lesbian love affair. Julia digs the sound only on the days she isn’t fighting with Jan.
Which isn’t today. Julia gives him a dark look as soon as he opens the front door of the café, in a rush and banging the doorknob against the wall loudly. She looks like she’s about to scold him but he’s already raising his hands as a peace offering and speaking defensively, “Listen, I know everything you’re gonna say. But just thought you girls should know—there are gulls dropping in the harbor like flies in a hot oven … and there’s a draugr headed this way.”
• • •
“What do you think this means?” Malaika is in the hold of their pirate ship, separating the treasure they’ve collected into caches which they’ll bury in the front yard later. There isn’t much since Danielle refused to take them to IKEA. But they make up for the lack of quantity with quality—their mother’s diamond bracelet and the gold starfish they found at the beach yesterday.
The starfish is what Malaika’s asking about. There’s an inscription on the back, cut roughly into the soft metal. She throws it up to Javid for his inspection.
“It isn’t Farsi, Captain, that’s for sure,” Javid answers, in character. He’s the first mate, via best-of-three coin toss. After some initial disappointment at having to take orders from his sister, Javid has settled into the role nicely. “Maybe it’s the name of the owner? But you know the law of the sea, Captain.”
“Finders keepers,” Malaika agrees, and catches the starfish nimbly when he tosses it back down into her waiting hands. She places it in the jewelry box beside their mother’s diamond bracelet. The starfish’s written inscription remains sunny side up.
Godes yrre bær. That’s the inscription.
• • •
“Godes yrre bær,” the draugr hisses at both Elin and Julia. He’s standing in the middle of the street, in all his damp sea-divinity. God’s wrath he bore.
“Wow, that thing is ug-a-ly,” the American, having followed them from the café, speaks up. “You got a serious sea-zombie problem in Oslo, huh?”
“Not usually,” Elin mutters, irritated. “And stop staring at it.”
“Why?” the American asks.
“Because they don’t like it when you stare,” Julia says through clenched teeth, as she bats away Jan’s hands. He’s come along as well, trying to make up. It’s seriously not the time or the place.
The draugr lifts up his head and howls, from deep in his many-times-drowned throat. The howl echoes throughout the city. The air above the draugr’s barnacle-encrusted shoulder starts to shimmer. The hrafn screeches.
“If he brings out a horde of undead from that portal, I’m out of here,” the American mentions.
Elin kisses the face of the amulet she’s wearing and attacks first. Julia is close behind. The girls circle the monster, daggers drawn and twisting, with grace that is equal parts ancient Valkyrie tricks and waitress-catching-the-wine-glass-before-it-falls-to-the-floor-with-a-sudden-crash.
The boys are amazed. Or the American is anyway. Jan’s seen these girls in action before. He and Julia have been on and off again for the better part of a decade. Elin and Julia’s technique is flawless and they work well together.
The draugr hisses in protest as Elin scrapes a blade across his forearm. The monster’s blood runs thick and black, like the muck of a seabed.
“Good one, El!” Julia calls out.
“Thanks, Jules!” Elin chances a smile.
In perfect sync, the girls slam their amulets into opposite sides of the sidewalk. Scarlet beams of a force field shoot up and bend, twisting toward each other, braiding over the monster’s head. The red braids split into multiple threads, spilling out as a dome that forms around the draugr, running down all sides like tears of blood. The draugr charges at Julia but finds himself thrown back, locked in by those red threads. He swipes at them but then pulls his hand back quickly, as if burned.
“Keep it steady. Just a few more seconds,” Elin says, her eyes on the prison they’re creating. On the other side, Julia’s focus is just as steady.
Or it would be, if Jan didn’t think it was a good time to say, “Julia, by the way, I’m sorry about Hawaii but it’s just not a great time for me.”
“Seriously, you want to talk about this now?” Julia is flabbergasted and it shows, on her face, on the red threads that she’s creating. They slow, not meeting Elin’s exactly. The draugr notices.
“You weren’t answering my calls!” he yells over the draugr’s howl. The portal beside the monster shimmers some more.
“Julia, focus!” Elin reminds her sister-in-arms.
Julia does, snapping her attention back to the sea creature. And they may have finished it off had the draugr’s portal not slipped to the ground in the meantime, shimmering like a pool of metallic water, boiling over until … POP!
Hundreds and hundreds of deck spiders, with leg spans as large as Jan’s hand, crawl out of that portal. Dash out like rabid wind-up toys—crawling, creeping, running. The draugr’s spiders fill the prison the girls have spun around him, escaping into the street through the cracks and crannies not yet filled by magic threading.
And they’re coming right for Elin.
“Oh, hell no!” the American takes off first, running down the street as fast as his shoes can carry him. His cowboy hat comes off and falls onto the sidewalk, swallowed up by the mass of spiders running after him. Elin swallows hard and tries—she really tries—to keep it together. But they’re coming, hundreds and hundreds of scurrying, scampering deck spiders, with furry bodies and a gaggle of beady, moist eyes and … Oh. My. God.
“Elin …,” Julia warns, keeping her voice calm and steady.
Elin doesn’t scream, so that’s something. But she’s already gone, her side of the amulet-made prison failing fast, red threads snapping away before melting away into nothingness. Elin sprints down the street after the American, a legion of spiders nipping at her heels.
• • •
The draugr is at No. 14 Grendelsgate when he’s spotted by the twins. Javid and Malaika are standing on the bow of their dining chair pirate ship. Javid, still serving as loyal first mate, has a pair of binoculars leveled in the monster’s direction.
“I’m afraid we have to turn back, Captain,” Javid says to Malaika. “There’s some evil on these waters.”
“Nonsense,” Malaika roughly takes the binoculars from her brother’s hands to assess the situation herself. After seeing the sea-zombie in 4X enhancement, she changes her mind, “On second thought, First Mate, I think you’re right. Make ready to abandon ship.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Javid salutes his sister.
In the meantime, the draugr has made it to No. 15. He hisses in the children’s direction.
“Oed’ und leer das Meer,” is said again and again in his gravelly voice. The twins jump down from the dining room chairs and take battle positions on the lawn, with their twig swords raised and ready.
The draugr attempts to open the gate. He rattles the lock but it doesn’t give. He grows a size larger and leans against it, but it doesn’t budge. He attempts to bend the iron, but still nothing.
“It’s locked,” Javid mentions to the struggling creature, as if it isn’t obvious. He looks at Malaika and she shrugs. It’s obvious to her.
“Godes yrre bær!” the monster hisses at them again, angrier this time.
“What do you want with us anyway?” Malaika asks, curious. This is the first monster of the summer and the first one that’s ever come to their house.
“Oed’ und leer das Meer,” the draugr mumbles to itself, reaching through the bars in the gate and stretching his dripping, decaying arms toward them. Javid reaches out and smacks its hand away with his stick. The draugr snatches the afflicted hand back with a growl.
“Not very good manners on this one, Captain,” Javid declares. “Permission to kill it?”
“I think it’s our only choice,” Malaika agrees.
They take two steps toward the gate.
“Get back, both of you!” Danielle’s voice is commanding as she comes up the street behind the draugr. The draugr spins and looks at the newcomer with interest. She shakes her head ruefully at the children. “You’re going to take on a draugr with sticks?”
“It can’t get us, Danielle,” Javid insists.
“Yeah, he can’t get the gate open,” Malaika adds. “We’re safe.”
“You’re safe because I locked you in,” Danielle sighs. It isn’t even noon and she’s already bone-tired. Her mother’s right, after all, she needs more sleep. “That’s not an ordinary lock.”
The draugr charges Danielle but the French nanny side-steps him easily, with a dancer’s coordination. The monster hits a row of cars parked on the side of the street. His considerable weight scatters them in a dozen directions and alarms start going off.
“Where’d you slither up from?” she asks him.
“Oed’ und leer das Meer.”
“I don’t care what they stole from you,” she answers. “You don’t belong up here. You belong in the sea.”
“Godes yrre bær!” more hissing. He reaches for a trash can and throws it her way. She ducks. The trash can crashes against the side of the al-Jahad gate, spilling garbage everywhere.
“Je m’en fous!” Danielle says back.
Running footsteps approach. Having recovered from what happened outside the café, Elin, Julia, Jan and the American finally catch up to the draugr, coming up to join the French woman.
“I warned you about this,” Danielle grumbles to them, as she spins around, enraged by their incompetence. “Why didn’t you deal with it?”
“Um …,” Elin begins but her voice falls into a slight whimper. Julia killed the spiders with a blast of her amulet, but the skittering things had crawled and jumped into Elin’s hair before she managed it. Elin reaches up and pulls another dead one out of the flaxen strands with a grimace.
“Well …,” Julia starts, but doesn’t want to admit the reason.
Danielle shakes her head with a sea-sorceress’s wrath. Her eyes flash a red color, as red as Elin and Julia’s amulets, as red as the Camargue lake her mother is imprisoned in. The words she speaks next aren’t French at all, but the language of the sea, etched on whale bones and hidden in the muck of deep-water trenches.
Return to your cursed and watery grave and don’t come back.
It’s a simple thing. The sea-sorceress’s daughter has dominion over these creatures. If she wants to be their queen, she need only accept the job. It’s not the highest paying vocation, of course, but her mother would counter that the benefits more than make up for the rest of it.
• • •
Afterwards, the Valkyries help Danielle clean up the street. Jan and the American do some heavy lifting, to show the girls that they’re men. But Elin and Julia can use their amulets to turn minivans right side up, so they aren’t all that impressed.
“I’m just trying to say I’m sorry,” Jan continues his attempts to make good with Julia, as they pick up scattered trash together.
“Why don’t you write a song about it?” she answers back cleverly, throwing an old sock and then a dark brown banana peel at his face. He ducks.
On the other side of the street, the American helps Elin rid her hair and clothes of the last of the spiders. Her eyes are closed tightly as he works. She doesn’t want to see what he’s pulling off her. She’ll have nightmares for weeks, as is.
“It’s their size that’s the problem,” Elin’s explains, adding, “And their speed. And their legs. And their teeth and eyes. And um, everything about them.”
“Honestly, I think you handled the situation as well as anybody in your position could have,” the American replies, almost gallantly.
Inside the courtyard, Danielle is pouring a vase of water over Javid and Malaika’s campfire, which is threatening to spring back to life.
“It’s my day off,” the French nanny mutters to herself, for maybe the fifth or sixth time that day. She shakes her head, before walking over to the twins.
“Where is it?” she demands.
“Where’s what?” they answer in unison, playing dumb.
But Danielle won’t be fooled. She waits them out, arms crossed over her chest as she stares the twins down.
“Fine,” Malaika finally relents, turning over the gold starfish that they still have stashed in the hold. Danielle turns it over in her palm a couple times before slipping it in her messenger bag.
With all the commotion downstairs, Paransa rouses long enough to come to her bedroom window and call down, “You children play quietly now. Mama’s trying to sleep.”
“Yes, Mama. We will,” they answer automatically, with their tones a little downcast, now that they’ve had to give up half their treasure. Danielle gives a long-suffering sigh of acquiescence and finally, for the first time all day … gives a smile. Or a half-smile anyway. Well, something like a smile. For God’s sake, she’s not a monster.
“Alors, come on,” she beckons to Javid and Malaika. “Let’s go to IKEA.”
The children squeal with excitement.
Further down the street, Jan and Julia break up and then make up, all within the span of ten minutes. Elin and the American bond over shared phobias. She also lets him know that, while tipping a waitress might not be expected, it’s still very much appreciated.
Upstairs, Paransa’s shades are once again drawn to the insomniac sun.
Copyright © 2023 by Gretchen Tessmer